Life as El Chapo’s tech guru was a lot to process.
In riveting testimony Thursday, turncoat techie Cristián Rodriguez said he once hid in the woods with Joaquín (El Chapo) Guzmán Loera for three days as Mexican military helicopters circled overhead.
He later happened to be listening in on a secretly wiretapped call as Chapo’s Colombian counterparts confirmed he was “100%” made as a government informant.
The IT guy largely credited with taking down the Mexican drug lord said all the pressure led to his nervous breakdown under government protection in 2013.
He described undergoing electroconvulsive therapy — twice — as a way to cope.
“I had too much stress on me,” Rodriguez told the jury at Chapo’s drug trafficking trial in Brooklyn. “I went to the hospital to get some help.”
Rodriguez, 32, was in his early twenties when he first started working with Chapo in 2008 to redesign the Sinaloa cartel’s shoddy communication systems, he said during two days of testimony that ended Thursday.
The Colombian computer whiz said Thursday that Chapo paid a million dollars for the encrypted network he set up — a system so impenetrable, the FBI couldn’t hack it on its own.
He said the gig led to ongoing employment with the cartel, and during a 2009 meeting at the kingpin’s mountain hideout, Chapo made the outlandish request that he install spyware in every internet café in Culiacán to give him access to all texts and calls made in the entire state of Sinaloa.
Not long after the meeting, the cartel got wind the Mexican army was planning a raid, he testified. The group quickly fled on foot with Chapo’s heavily armed group of bodyguards, he said.
“We walked through the mountains for three days,” Rodriguez told the court. “One of the men had a very large weapon. Someone told me it could knock out a helicopter.”
He said Chapo remained “tranquil” the entire time. Rodriguez, on the other hand, fared “very badly,” he said.
Rodriguez said the incident scared him so much, he returned to Colombia and began working remotely for his high-maintenance employer to create some “distance.”
He described how in February 2011 he was approached by the FBI in Bogotá.
“They told me they knew I worked for Chapo, and I was in serious trouble,” he testified.
It took less than a day for Rodriguez to flip on his fugitive boss, and a short time later, the keys to all of Chapo’s beloved spy software and encrypted data tricks were handed over to U.S. authorities, he said.
The computer genius explained he set up a shadow server for the FBI that received daily downloads of the cartel’s communications.
He said it was sometime in 2011, while he was listening to a recorded phone call between Colombia-based cartel associate Alex Cifuentes and a relative, that he heard it “had been confirmed 100%” he was cooperating with the feds.
“I became very frightened,” Rodriguez testified Thursday.
Not long after that, he said, the FBI agreed he had a target on his back and moved him to the U.S.
In February 2012, Rodriguez traveled to Mexico under U.S. protection and tracked Chapo’s calls in real-time, he said.
The operation was so successful, it led to the Los Cabos property where Chapo evaded capture by only a matter of minutes.
In text messages admitted as evidence earlier this week, Chapo allegedly described his daring escape that day, telling wife Emma Coronel Aispuro he noticed police “pounding on the door next door” and was able to “jump out” the back with only minor “scratches.”
Chapo, 61, is on trial in federal court for allegedly smuggling mass quantities of cocaine, heroin and other drugs across the U.S. for distribution in New York City and elsewhere.
He has pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy.
In his testimony Thursday, Rodriguez said his cooperation with authorities has paid off handsomely. He confirmed he and his family were granted U.S. visas and that he was paid $480,000 over seven years under an agreement that spared him criminal prosecution.
He also was instrumental in the capture of Colombian drug lord Jorge Cifuentes and now is eligible for a $5 million reward in the case, jurors heard.
Rodriguez helped collar the narco by secretly installing GPS location software on Cifuentes’ phone, he said.